St. Francis is considered a legendary hero and a popular saint. He was born in
1181, the middle of a time of great increases and expansions in the medieval West, in
Assisi, the place where this was strongest. His parents were Pietro and Pica Bernardone.
His father was a wealthy silk merchant. St. Francis spent his childhood in extravagant
living and pleasure-seeking.He was always in trouble and ran around Assisi with his
friends, eating, drinking, and having a good time. He went to war to fight for Assisi
against Perugia and was taken prisoner in 1202. Eventually he was released and once
again, returned to his old carefree ways. He became seriously ill for a while but then
He experienced a vision of Christ at Spoleto which was then followed by another
vision while he returned to Assisi. One vision was of Christ telling him, Go and rebuild
my church. It is falling down. These visions are what changed his lifestyle forever.
Despite his wealthy, comfortable life, St. Francis chose a life of poverty. He wore rags
and wooden shoes on his bare feet. His father became furious at this and threatened to
disown him. Francis returned his fathers money and clothes that he had taken to help
rebuild the church and severed relations with his father.
St. Francis rebuilt San Damiano with money begged from his townsmen. He
went on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1206, identifying himself with the poor and helping to
take care of those who suffered from leprosy. For two or three years he lived alone,
wandering. Eventually, seven disciples joined him. Some of them were older, some
middle-aged, but they lived together as a community at the Portiuncula in Assisi, near a
leper colony. Here, he devoted himself completely to his lifes work of poverty and
preaching. St. Francis and the other preachers stood out from the other Italian poor
preachers of the time because they had respect for, and showed obedience to the Church
authorities and their doctrinal orthodoxy. They lived in simple huts and their churches
were small. They slept on the ground and had no tables or chairs, as well as very few
In 1209, St. Francis founded the order of Friars Minor, which took the people of
that time by surprise because by doing this, Francis presented poverty, chastity, and
obedience in terms of troubadours and courts of love. After this, St. Francis gained many
Francis wished to preach to more people from farther around. In 1212 he went
eastward, but was driven on to the Dalmatian coast. In 1214 he left once again, this time
for Morocco through Spain, but, he became very sick and was forced to come back home.
In 1219, he sailed from Ancona with twelve other friars, heading for Acre and Damietta.
Francis managed to pass through enemy lines and meet with the Sultan who was very
impressed but did not want to convert. St. Francis would not take all the rich presents he
was given and he went back to the Christian armies.
In 1221, Francis made a rule, which was approved in 1223 as the Regula Bullata.
It canalized the Franciscan Order into the Church. Francis had already made a rule
previous to the Regula Bullata, called the Regula Prima, in 1210. The Regula Prima
began with a promise of obedience and reverence to Pope Innocent III and his successors.
Most of it deals with the Gospels, which refer to renunciation and to the conditions of life
of the followers of Christ. Also, it says that all brothers shall be catholic and live and
speak as catholics. If any shall err from the catholic faith and life either by word or deed
and shall not mend his way, let him be expelled from the brotherhood.
In 1212, Francis was joined by St. Clare who helped to establish the Franciscan
St. Francis was known to have a close bond or relationship with animals. Stories
are told about him preaching to the birds, telling them that God loves them and that they
should praise Him for everything they have been given, such as wings to fly freely
through the sky. There is also another favorite story about the wolf who terrorized a
town by killing the townsmen and their animals. Francis approached the wolf and made
a deal with him that if he would stop killing, then the people of the town would leave him
food for the rest of his life. The wolf agreed and went door to door for the rest of its life
for food. In the end, when the wolf finally dies, the people of the town realize that they
miss the wolf. Another story told of Francis saving a lamb on its way to slaughter by
convincing a merchant to give it to him. He then brought the lamb with him on his way
to see the Bishop. These stories are thought to emphasize St. Francis consideration for
all elements of the physical universe, and his identity with them. This is the reason why
he is sometimes called the patron of natural conservation.
In St. Francis later years, some of the most famous incidents of his life happened.
One of these incidents was the inauguration of the Christmas crib at Grecchio, prepared
by friar John, where Francis read the Gospel with such devotion that it made men cry.
Another incident was the canticle of the Sun, in 1224. He wrote it when he visited Clare
at Assisi while he was extremely sick and uncomfortable. And most important of all the
incidents, in 1224, while praying in his cell on Mount Alverna, when he received the
stigmata. This was considered the climax of supernatural events that had occurred to him
St. Francis of Assisi died on October 3, 1226, at age forty five. He was canonized
in 1228 by his old friend, Gregory IX. St. Francis was buried in the church of St. Giorgio
and Assisi is now a pilgrimage centre for Franciscan devotees from all around the world.
I dont think that there are very many people around today that would ever
deliberately force themselves into poverty and a life spent wandering and living with
sick and poor strangers, while being blind and extremely sick himself at times, all
because of a strong devotion to God. It seems incredible, especially in the world of
which we live today, that a person living comfortably with wealth and all that life has to
offer, could give it all up. St. Francis was a caring and sensitive man who loved the
world around him and believed that it was all a result of a gift from God. His belief was
so strong that he felt he had to, in a sense, give up his life, just as Christ had done, to
serve his Lord. St. Francis left us with so much before he died. He rebuilt many of
Romes churches and with the help of St. Clare, formed the Franciscans and the
Throughout this past century, we have seen much more interest in St. Francis but
we have had a tendency to only see the traits and characteristics about him that are shown
in movies or individual writings. Because of this, we often see cartoons and caricatures
of St. Francis as a sentimental nature-lover or even as a hippy drop-out from society.
These humorous portrayals keep us from seeing how stern and devoted he really was.
They dont show his unbelievable and undeniable love for God. Still, St. Francis is
Spring Term 2000
1.Delaney, John J. Dictionary of Saints. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1980.
2.New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 6. Ill: Jack Heraty & Associates, Inc., 1981.
3.Jrgensen, Johannes. Saint Francis of Assisi: A Biography. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1947.
4.Cunningham, Lawrence S. Saint Francis of Assisi. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1976.
5.Duquoc, Christian and Casiano Floristn. Francis of Assisi Today. New York: The Seabury Press, 1981.
6.DePaola, Tomie. Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi. New York: Holiday House, 1982.